Mike Wise: Four years after LeBron James’s ‘Decision,’ here we are all over again

The city of Cleveland -- and NBA fans across the country -- are abuzz over the possibility that the city's prodigal son, basketball star LeBron James, might return to the Cavaliers. PostTV takes a look back to 2010, when Cleveland fans were singing a much different tune. (Gillian Brockell, Kate M. Tobey and Osman Malik/The Washington Post)
Columnist July 10, 2014

There are people lined up in front of LeBron James’s house outside of Akron at this very moment, presumably some of the same jilted fans who approved of his Cavaliers jersey being burned in effigy four years ago.

Northeast Ohio is giddy over the possibility that the man who spurned them for South Beach in 2010 could love them once more — that the NBA’s most awesome force could come back into their life and make their lottery team an NBA Finals contender again.

Mike Wise is a sports columnist for The Washington Post. View Archive

In the waning moments of free agency, he will either go down as Cleveland’s all-time cruelest tease or that rare bird able to tweak the title of Thomas Wolfe’s classic novel:

Yes, ’Bron, you can go home again.

Either way, let’s make this NBA Bachelor episode quick because I’m on a beach in the Outer Banks typing this, waiting for a storm to clear so I can go fishing for speckled trout. The boss owes me one.

And I think I speak for Chris Bosh and all of America right now being held hostage by “The Indecision.”

Update at 4:57 p.m.: I just heard from “my guy” in Akron. LeBron is 99 percent returning to Cleveland, he said. His only trepidation is a pattern of unpredictability LeBron and his inner circle have shown in prior instances.

But then, everyone has a guy in Akron or Miami right now, telling them what they want to hear to build their case for where LeBron is heading.

The tea leaves are pointing toward Cleveland because the thought is if Heat president Pat Riley couldn’t get a commitment from LeBron to re-sign with the Heat after meeting with him in Las Vegas on Wednesday , Riles is never going to close the deal.

His hunker-down news conference apparently backfired, or so LeBron’s people are letting everyone know. Especially this part, when Riley said, “This stuff is hard. And you got to stay together, if you got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it if you have an opportunity.”

It was the ol’ Riles call to duty that worked for Magic and Kareem, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and all the warrior/basketball players he coached. He wasn’t begging anyone to stay; he was challenging their manhood, their commitment, their ability to see things through, no one more than the best player in the league, who did about all he humanly could to ensure Miami got back to the finals for a fourth straight time since he signed with the Heat.

If Riley doesn’t pull out some miracle, he is going to morph into Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert this time around — the scorned one, who thought he provided the team and the environment to give LeBron every opportunity he needed to realize his professional dreams but ended up getting left at the altar anyway.

At some point, LeBron’s employers should stop taking this personally and just realize they are dealing with a power broker more than a player, who is constantly making a play for his best possible option going forward.

The force of Riley’s personality, which still permeates the Heat to the extent that a fine, young coach like Erik Spoelstra will never fully receive his proper due until the team president retires, is why Miami went from an afterthought of an expansion team in the early-1990s to a three-time NBA champion. He is the Heat, from the moment he took the job and made a clear distinction between merely “winning” and “being the winner.”

It also may be why LeBron is said to be close to moving on. He just may need to be the Alpha male in any organization he plays for at this point in his career, and any coach, general manager or owner that has influence over his career needs to understand that some players are great enough to enter into business partnerships rather than strictly defined employer/employee relationships.

Riley is clearly more amenable to bending rules and making accommodations than in the past, but he’s also remained relevant because he has been able to translate what worked the last millennium into 2014.

Of course, the longer LeBron waits, the more the entire league is on hold — from Bosh’s free agent decision to Houston’s maneuverings, all the way down to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who have had multiple inquiries about Kevin Love, who doesn’t want to be there.

In strict basketball sense, this is a huge gamble for LeBron. He has to believe a player of Kyrie Irving’s ilk and a developing but not special roster in Cleveland will all of a sudden turn into a certain Eastern Conference champion again and seriously threaten whoever emerges from the West.

He would play for an unproven rookie coach (newly hired David Blatt) and rely on a very green general manager to bolster Cleveland, which is a much better free-agent sell with LeBron but still not a no-brainer locale like Miami, L.A. or New York.

Most of all, he would have to deliver this time.

If he doesn’t, Riley won’t feel like he overplayed his hand. He will feel like karma caught up to King James.

Personally, I thought he had all he wanted in Miami, and if Riles could just tweak the roster and acquire genuine all-around players rather than specialists, the Heat would have at least three more title runs left.

But if he or his people felt slighted by the man in charge, well, divas do what divas do when they don’t get their way; they seek refuge in people who give them their way.

Either way, let’s get this over. Now. It’s not just that the storm has passed here or that ESPN’s Josina Anderson probably does not want to stay up all night in front of Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena waiting for her next live hit.

The longer this LeBron-a-thon goes, the worse it looks for a player who owes no team or town anything other than a phone call before he tells the nation he is leaving his current home. If he learned anything from 2010, it’s that breakups are less painful when everyone involved knows exactly where they stand.

Somebody is going to be crestfallen. Some team will not get the final rose. The least he could do is let the runner-up know before we do.

For more by Mike Wise, visit washingtonpost.com/wise.

Continue reading 10 minutes left
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Sports
Stats, scores and schedules